Belfast Telegraph

BBC's defence of Northern Ireland SPOTY snub is just not up to scratch

By Steven Beacom

The BBC's response to a letter regarding the lack of Northern Ireland representation on the 2016 Sports Personality of the Year shortlist was 'unacceptable', according to Stormont's Minister for Communities Paul Givan.

There was anger and disappointment in Northern Ireland last month when two-weight World boxing champion Carl Frampton, two-time World Superbike champion Jonathan Rea and Team GB's most successful athlete at the Paralympic Games, swimmer Bethany Firth, were not deemed worthy enough by the judges to be amongst 16 contenders for the prize voted for by the public.

Tennis star Andy Murray won SPOTY on Sunday night for a record third time, but there remained dismay in Northern Ireland that there was no chance to vote for a local hero.

Givan wrote to BBC Director of Sport Barbara Slater outlining his dissatisfaction with the judging process but has been left unhappy by the response, claiming the Corporation need to learn lessons for the future.

He said: "When you looked at the names on the list there was a very strong case as to why some of our sporting stars should have been on it and people here were angered by that.

"Obviously Carl Frampton and Jonathan Rea were two that stood out in terms of winning World titles. I know this was an Olympic year and the list of 16 was dominated by Olympians and Paralympians, so why was Bethany Firth not on that list when she topped the medal table for Team GB in the Paralympics?

"When the shortlist was announced people started to ask what the process was and who was on the judging panel. Those were questions that I posed in my letter.

"I received the response and it explained that it was a big year for sport and those on the panel scrutinised all of the contenders, pointing to previous years when Northern Ireland had sports stars recognised and therefore it wasn't Northern Ireland being disadvantaged.

"It was one of those responses that tried to explain away something but failed to address the core issues of what the process was and how transparent that process is.

"Tony Hall (Director General of the BBC), who is ultimately in charge of the BBC, says there needs to be more reflection of the regions, which is something I've pushed for in the renewal of the BBC Charter, and yet when it came to the Sports Awards we didn't have anyone on this year's judging panel. Why not?

"That then leads to people feeling we are not being treated fairly. Maybe if we had had someone on the judging panel from Northern Ireland it wouldn't have made a difference to the shortlist but at least I think then the public wouldn't be able to put to the BBC that it didn't have anyone from Northern Ireland and they may be able to justify the selections better.

"The response in my view wasn't acceptable but ultimately the BBC take these decisions. I know it is something we are going to continue to explore with them.

"There are lessons to be learnt for the BBC and I'll be making that point to them in future years.

"I think it is more than regrettable the way in which it was handled and the fact that given the success we have had in Northern Ireland this year that we didn't have a representative on the shortlist."

Belfast Telegraph

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